Yellowstone River parasite kills mass quantities of fish as officials scramble

There's sad news coming from Montana's Fish, Wildlife and Parks department: a parasite is killing off large quantities of fish in Yellowstone River, and as a result all activities on the water in both the river and its tributaries has been banned. According to the state's wildlife division, there have been more than 2,000 recorded instances of Mountain Whitefish dying from this parasite, though the department estimates that there could be tens of thousands of fish affected throughout the larger Yellowstone River region. The ban is instituted in a bid to stop the parasite from spreading to other bodies of water.

As of today, all recreational water activities have been banned in Yellowstone River and its tributaries; this includes fishing, boating, wading, even floating. The ban applies to tributaries spanning from the national park's Gardiner northern boundary all the way through to Highway 212's bridge in Laurel.

The state calls the massive fish deaths 'unprecedented,' and is trying to prevent the parasite causing them from getting into nearby rivers — it could be transported by boats and other items that touch the affected waters. As well, department officials are scrambling to protect the remaining fish from injury or death.

The aforementioned 2,000 deaths were recorded over the past week in only certain parts of the affected water region — that's why officials believe many thousands more fish are likely affected. Unfortunately, there are signs the parasite is also beginning to kill off Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout and Rainbow Trout, as well.

Testing has shown the cause of death to be Proliferative Kidney Disease, which can affect both whitefish and trout in particularly devastating ways. The parasite causing the disease is known to exist in the US, Canada, and Europe, but had spent the last couple decades contained to only two places in Montana, both of which are said to have been isolated.

Unfortunately, the parasite has somehow managed to proliferate greatly in recent times, and has made its way to water bodies in Washington state, Oregon, and Idaho as well. Because Montana largely thrives on an outdoor-based economy, however, this parasite poses a risk to tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in annual economic activities.

The parasite is not dangerous to humans.

SOURCE: Montana State Government